Tag Archives: air conditioning

Should You Buy A Private Label Air Conditioning and Heating System?

If you are getting bids on having a new AC and heating system installed, you might be offered a private label system. Like other private label products you may be familiar with, instead of having the manufacturer’s name on the equipment, it is branded with the company that is selling and installing it.

The main reasons HVAC contractors will offer a private label system are straightforward:

  1. Because the quality of the installation matters considerably more than which brand of equipment is being installed,  independent HVAC contractors are now putting more emphasis on “selling themselves” rather than the brand of equipment.
  2. Customers are less likely to compare it to the equipment in competing bids
  3. Since there is less brand advertising and perhaps less markup between them and the factory, the contractor who installs the equipment likely has room to make more profit margin in their cost on the equipment than on branded units. Or they can lower the price to you and make the same profit as on branded units.
  4. You (or the next owner) are more likely to call them for maintenance, repairs or replacement.

HVAC Industry insiders often refer to the equipment as “boxes”

The inference here, of course, is that the ac and heating equipment, heat pumps, etc.  are a commodity. To the extent that they are made from mechanical parts built by factories (some of them the same ones…) from all over the world, I agree with this assessment.

In some of the industry forums, I often read about confusion over who currently makes the equipment for certain well-known HVAC brands vs. who used to make them or whose parts they used.  Brands and factories get relocated overseas, change ownership, or get split up to the point that some industry insiders are not sure who even currently owns some brands.

A private label air conditioner and heater system can be a good buy if:

  1. You are convinced that the company and their technicians who will install it offer an acceptable overall value. Among other things, this includes: accuracy in sizing the equipment and quality of its installation, efficiency, features, benefits, customer service and more.  You can read more about that here on how to buy.
  2. You get documentation on what company or companies the warranty is through, and are comfortable that they will be around for the life of the equipment, and will make good on any defects or mistakes.
  3. If a third party is involved in the warranty (someone other than the actual manufacturer, such as Goodman, or the local company who is installing the equipment, then read this blog post before buying.
  4. You get written verification that your private label equipment qualifies for federal or other rebates. Note: the model number on private label equipment is often the same as for other models made by the factory that builds it.

Let us know if you have any experiences in this area so others can learn.

Same As Cash SAC Financing For Air Conditioning Systems

If you are considering buying a new air conditioning and heating system or heat pump, and are not able to pay for it with cash, check or credit card, then you will likely run across a financing offer called “same as cash financing”.  It is usually preceded by a number of days or months (example: “90 days Same As Cash”) and is also abbreviated SAC.

Having had an eye-opening experience myself with a computer purchase and this topic, research for this blog reinforced my beliefs in this area.  I’ll also include a list of questions to ask about SAC offers, along with a financing alternative you may not have thought of or been told about.

Read the “same as cash” SAC documents and ask questions

The first thing to know about SAC: there are usually strict requirements to avoid changes in the “no interest”. For some offers, if you are late on any payments or fail to pay the entire balance on or before the due date,  the whole loan can be recalculated back to the first day it began, and at some unbelievably high interest rates or with fees. If that happens, what started out seeming like “interest free money” for your AC purchase can turn on you to become something you would regret.  Now…on to the checklist….

As a checklist while you are reading SAC financing details, look for the following:

  1. How many payments must you miss or be late on before the SAC offer turns to a loan with interest?
  2. If interest were to get added, what would the interest rate be in APR?
  3. If the rate escalates, is it recalculated back to the first or the day your loan became late?
  4. What date or system determines when your payment was received? (In other words, how many days could pass between the date your payment is delivered at one part of their payment center and the date your payment is actually credited to your account?)
  5. Is there any credit insurance /debt cancellation insurance required or automatically included?
  6. If present in the contract, can you opt out of it? (This type of insurance usually costs a lot, relative to the size of the loan).

While reading in some HVAC industry publications, I found references to credit unions, and this is a topic we have written about before. If you project into the future and believe you may not be able to pay off the entire SAC loan, you should consider a fixed rate home improvement loan from your local credit union.  You can search online or look up credit unions in your area at NCUA – Credit Union Directory

In the past few years, there are more credit unions that have membership criteria other than employment for a specific company or entity.  One way to describe these is “community chartered credit unions”.   Practically speaking, it is probably easier to just ask what the membership requirements for your credit unions are.

If you have related experiences, please send them so other readers can benefit.

Extended Warranties for Home Air-Conditioning and Heating Systems

Frequently, we learn lessons from other industries that apply well to home heating and AC.  The other day, I had to visit my independent auto mechanic shop. While in his waiting area, I overhead him tell another customer that he “never recommends his customers to buy third-party extended warranties on their car or truck”.  He went on to say that that third party warranty companies were diligent at selling warranties /repair insurance and collecting premiums, and not-so-good at being around later or paying out for claims.  In case the term is new to you, ‘third party” simply means a company not involved otherwise in the transaction.

While monitoring HVAC industry forums and news, what I have read seems to generally support my mechanic’s overall assessment on extended warranties offered by third parties.

First, let’s be clear on the difference in the types of warranties that you can buy for your home heater or air conditioner system. The following parties typically offer warranties on heating and A/C equipment, either when it is first installed or sometimes later. :

  • Manufacturer of the equipment
  • Local dealer or independent contractor who installed the equipment
  • A third party insurance or warranty company,  who is not the manufacturer or installing contractor.

Extended warranties will usually provide different terms for (or ways to dictate coverage of) the following:

  • Main Components  (compressors, condensers, heat exchangers, etc)
  • Parts (other than the above)
  • Labor to diagnose and fix any warranty claims (this can be a higher amount than parts)
  • An amount of time the warranty covers
  • Deductible (amount that must be paid by you later before warranty starts paying)
  • “Ordinary wear & tear”, abuse or neglect vs. a failure or repair covered by the warranty
  • Which repair company is required to do the work for you to be eligible for payment
  • Does the warranty pay for the repair directly, or do you have to pay for it and apply for reimbursement

Summary:

  • Higher efficiency or more sophisticated heating, cooling, heat pump or indoor air quality equipment increases your likelihood of needing /using  an extended warranty.
  • A yearly maintenance plan is something most owners should have but do not
  • If you only have budget for one of the two, go for a yearly maintenance plan over an extended warranty
  • Always be clear on what the manufacturer’s warranty covers and exactly what any extended warranty actually gains you above what you already have from the manufacturer or installer
  • If you have the discipline, you could take the money you were going to pay an extended warranty, deductibles, and excluded items and instead, put it in a savings account. You can use those funds to pay for your own maintenance and repairs later.
  • Regular maintenance will help prevent the need for repairs from neglect
  • If you decide to go with an extended warranty, those from a large manufacturer are usually a better bet than the other two categories.  Sometimes dealers are owned by the manufacturer. It helps you to know if they are or are not.

If you have experience related to this, whether you agree with the comments above or can offer something to the contrary, please post your comments.

Product Category Overview: Ductless Air-Conditioning, A/C and Heating Units

Ductless units go by a number of names, most of them referring to the lack of ductwork necessary for distribution of the warmed or cooled air. A few of the other names commonly used  are mini-split, mini-splits, and split-ductless.

Where Ductless A/C and Heating Can Be A Solution

These units typically work best in situations such as: room additions, garage enclosures, basement renovations, sunroom additions, workshops and garage apartments.  Primarily they are used in retrofits or replacement of small non-ducted indoor cooling and heating.  For smaller homes ductless can be a good choice for replacing space heaters and window units.  These can also be a solution where duct installation is either physically not possible, or not cost effective.  Finally, there are some indoor environments where ductwork needs to be avoided for health considerations, such as severe asthma cases or in hospitals.

A Brief History of Ductless HVAC Units
These clever units were developed in Japan, where the dense population and high energy costs called for features that window units or ducted systems did not provide.

Features and benefits

  • As the name indicates, there no duct work.  Since there is no ductwork, there is no loss of heating or cooling due to leaks in ductwork, or ducts being located in unconditioned space.  With these units,very high efficiency is available, up to 26 SEER.
  • The units tend to be quiet, because the compressor sits outside instead of closer to you, as in window units or other package units do.  Certain ductless models will qualify for 30% federal tax credit, up to $1,500, for 2009 and 2010 on parts and labor costs.   Be sure to get the qualifications of your unit in writing before purchasing.
  • Some models have up to four indoor air handling units connected to one outdoor unit. This means the one outdoor unit can handle up to four rooms or zones. This depends on how much heating or cooling the structure or each zone needs.  As is always the case in HVAC , the amount of insulation, the climate, and other conditions of the envelope (structure) affects the heating or cooling capacity required.
  • Since each zone gets a separate thermostat, this gives more flexibility on comfort and ways to save energy.
  • Some models offer features for added humidity control and air filtration.

Considering Buying A Ductless Unit Online?
On their website for the Mr. Slim ductless Mitsubishi states that they do not authorize or provide warranty for the online retail selling of its Mr. Slim air-conditioning and heat pumps. The company gives a number of reasons, with the upshot being you are much more likely to be satisfied with the performance if the unit is sized and installed by a professional HVAC technician.  This is consistent with all our research and feedback.  Unlike the older window units or portable models, although they have no ducts, they still require the running of lines for coolant, drainage, etc., and they have to be charged with refrigerant. While reading the latest on this topic, we did notice some Mistubushi mini-splits being sold online. If you are considering buying a unit online and having it installed for you by a licensed technician, you should ask for a copy of the warranty to be sent to you before purchasing. From what we have consistently read and heard, you will be better off going through a local HVAC service company you trust for everything.

Brands Of Ductless AC and Heating Units

If you want to compare features, below are some of the leading manufacturers and brands.
AmcorAire®
Comfort-Aire
Sanyo
Fredreich
Fujitsu
LG
Mitsubishi

Intital Cost vs. Lifetime Operating Costs

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, ductless equipment costs more per unit of cooling: 30% more than a central split system and 50% more than a window unit.  Of course, the absence of ductwork and future costs related to it (periodic checking for leaks, cleaning, and eventual replacement) must be factored in. Also, ductless units are available in some of the highest efficiency ratings that can be purchased.  The savings in energy costs will offset the higher initial cost.  To determine the extent of that offset, ask your professional installer for an estimate of the monthly and total cost of ownership over the projected life of the unit.

If you have an experience or other info to share regarding ductless units, send it to us and we will post it, so that all our readers can benefit.

Product Review: Lennox Solar Assisted Heat Pump Model XPG20

Since its inception, our website has been brand neutral, meaning we do not favor one manufacturer of equipment over another. We focus more on features and benefits that are most likely to affect performance and your overall satisfaction. Above all, we emphasize that central A/C, heating and indoor air quality equipment must be sized and installed by a trained and experienced HVAC technician. Correct load calculations, equipment efficiency, features, quality of the installation and scheduled maintenance will have a bigger impact on your satisfaction than the specific brand of equipment you purchase.

To keep current on the air conditioning and heating industry, we read news groups from technicians, HVAC contractors, trade journals, blogs, manufacturer’s websites and more. Now and then, we see a product or service that grabs our attention. Since I have a background in environmental studies, this solar-assisted heat pump from Lennox got mine. Because the compressor and fan unit sit outside and use electricity, it makes sense to give them a boost from a solar panel.

For full disclosure, located on our city pages or elsewhere on this website, you may see listings/ads for a few locations of Service Experts or independent Lennox equipment dealers. We do not own Lennox stock and received no compensation for writing this review, though.

On to the solar-assisted heat pump. On their website, Lennox described model XPG20 as “The first integrated solar-assisted residential heating and cooling system”. We will start by listing excerpts from the product description on their website and product brochure, plus a few comments from us.

Quiet

  • Quiet Operation Fan grille— uses patent-pending, vortex-suppression technology to reduce sound of airflow exiting the unit, providing a quieter environment outside
  • Fully insulated compressor compartment—uses innovative vibration-isolating mounts to muffle operating sound

Comfort

  • Two-stage scroll compressor— runs at low speed most of the time, which means it’s less expensive to operate and provides more consistent comfort
  • Designed to work with the Humiditrol® whole-home dehumidification system*

Energy Efficiency

  • Power from the single solar panel reduces electricity needs of the outside fan motor.
  • Efficiency ratings of up to 18.20** SEER and 9.70** HSPF—can save you hundreds of dollars a year, compared to a standard heat pump
  • Tested with simulated power from the 205 watt solar module, the system is 20 SEER and 10.7 HSPF
  • ENERGY STAR® qualified—meets or exceeds EPA guidelines for energy efficiency
  • This product qualifies for a tax credit under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.***

Environmentally Responsible

  • The industry’s first solar-assisted central heat pump— uses a combination of solar energy and electricity to reduce home electric usage
  • Chlorine-free R410A refrigerant
  • Each of these units will offset 376 pounds of CO2 annually, which is the equivalent of seven mature trees or carpooling to work one day per week.

Reliability

  • Constructed of heavy-gauge, pre-painted steel and tested in the most extreme environments to ensure maximum durability
  • Lennox® System Operations Monitor— first onboard cooling system diagnostics in the industry—continuously monitors system performance and assures reliable operation and fast troubleshooting
  • 10-Year Limited Warranty on compressor and all remaining covered components, excludes solar panel

Footnotes from Lennox website
*Must be accompanied by either a variable speed air handler or furnace and the ComfortSense® 7000 Series touchscreen thermostat.
**SEER and HSPF are for operation without solar power input.
***Eligible heat pumps and air conditioners must meet the Federal minimum efficiency standards of 16.00 SEER and 13.00 EER for air conditioners or 15.00 SEER, 12.50 EER, and 8.50 HSPF for heat pumps, as set forth by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Not all system combinations apply. Verify actual system efficiency at www.ahridirectory.org and consult your tax expert before claiming energy efficiency tax credits.

AirConditioning-and-Heating.com observations:

  • Power assist means that the system is never dependent on solar energy to cool. Limited sun will not affect the overall capacity to cool, just the amount of grid electricity saved.
  • On page 2 of their PDF brochure, it states that the solar features reduce electricity consumption by 8%.
  • However, using the chart on their PDF brochure, we calculate that the solar assist features adds almost 10% efficiency to the cooling efficiency rating (SEER) and the same on heating performance (HSPF).
  • Perhaps the difference in 8% and 10% is a nationwide vs. regional estimate. The numbers on the PDF chart are for region IV (which includes Texas).  Savings from the solar assist would vary with your location in latitude, shade, roof orientation, and other factors that affect how much full sun the panel is able to receive.
  • When A/C needs are at their peak, the solar assist will be also. This makes a lot of sense. It also aligns well with the goals of power companies, that strive to lower electricity usage at peak loads.  It’s the peak demand and loading that can contribute to brownouts, higher spot fuel prices and other undesirable burdens.
  • For a thorough product brochure PDF with photos and schematics, click here.

Pricing

In case you have never purchased a central A/C and heating system, there is generally not a list price for the equipment alone. Rather, the installation price will be based on requirements to install it at your location. The total price for equipment and installation is quoted by a local dealer.  For a cost comparison organizer, click here.

We welcome comments from homeowners or technicians who have experience owning or installing this heat pump.

Tax Credit of $1,500 For New Heating and Air Conditioning Systems

As a provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, homeowners can now receive up to $1,500 in tax credits when they install qualifying high-efficiency heating and AC  equipment into an existing home.

Difference in a tax credit and tax deduction
Before going further, we will point out that this is a tax credit, not merely a deduction. Basically, a deduction reduces the amount your tax bill is calculated from. A tax credit offsets the amount of taxes you owe.  In all cases, talk to your tax advisor before taking action.

The act allows 30% of the amount invested for qualifying equipment and during specific dates in calendar 2009 and 2010, up to a maximum credit of $1,500.  This means that qualifying expenditures can be up to $5,000.  Although the focus in our blog is on HVAC equipment, the total credit also applies to certain types of energy efficient windows, doors, insulation, solar water heaters and other energy saving items.  At the risk of belaboring the point, one credit covers all these categories, not one credit per category.

Special provisions for geothermal heat pumps
If you are considering a geothermal heat pump (or solar water heater) we are hearing that there are some extra stimulus incentives, including higher allowances and more years to qualify.  Ask your tax adviser and contractor for the details.

Get the details in writing
In reading air conditioning and heating industry news and blogs, there is some confusion over which replacement equipment qualifies (or which efficiency standard to rely upon) for the efficiency standards of the act.  This is not unusual for the early stages of a new tax credit and the complexities of the U.S. tax code.  Because of this, we advise you to get the details in writing from your contractor or tax advisor as to whether (or not) any purchase you are considering qualifies for the tax credit.

Our wish is that you enjoy more comfort, lower energy usage, and lower monthly bills.

Tax Credits to Make Homes and Buildings More Energy Efficient for Heating and A-C

Listening to National Public Radio yesterday, I heard a report that discussed the use of tax dollars to renovate schools to make them more energy efficient. Of course, this sounds like a good idea. A follow up search on Google delivered the Schools for Energy Efficiency website. According to this source, one-third of the energy currently being consumed in schools is not used efficiently, and annual energy usage for heating and air conditioning costs up to $250 per student. This means that schools spend more on energy for heating and A-C than on books and supplies!

A similar situation exists with home air conditioning and heating. The condition of the envelope of the home (windows, doors, insulation, vents and the parts of the home that interface with the outside environment) has a lot to do with how well any heating or A-C equipment will heat or cool inside. The federal government still has programs in place to help homeowners make energy efficiency improvements, and a good place to start reading about them is on the Energy Star website. There, we found the following statement:

Tax credits for these residential products, which had expired at the end of 2007, will now be available for improvements made during 2009. However, improvements made during 2008 are not eligible for a tax credit.

To learn more about these programs you should ask your tax advisor and a local heating and A-C contractor. They should know which federal, state or local programs are available in your area to offset some of the costs of home improvements for energy efficiency.

If you know of a good case history or other example of home or building renovations to save energy in your area, please tell us about them in a comment or email them to us.

Buyer’s Guide To Heating and Air Conditioning Says “HVAC Equipment Brands Are Less Important Than Quality of Installation”

We frequently get asked this question:

“Why would a buyer’s guide not list equipment by brands, models and features so we can compare them?”

A blog is a great forum in which to explain this. For easier reading and response, we will answer in a top 5 list:

1. The brand that is on the new equipment matters much less than correct installation.  It is often stated among insiders that a good HVAC technician can make lousy equipment heat or cool OK, while a poorly trained or inexperienced technician might not make the best equipment in the world heat or cool reliably or efficiently.  We’re not saying cut corners on the equipment¬—we are saying focus first on the training and experience of the company and employees who will install your equipment. Then let them explain which types of equipment you should consider. Remember, these are also the folks who will provide maintenance or warranty work on your system.

2. Heating and A/C systems are made up of components that can be mixed and matched, yet contain some common elements, such as air handlers. Rating new equipment either by brand or piece by piece like TV sets is not very useful. Just because two pieces of equipment will physically fit or function together does not make doing so a good idea for optimum results, however.  It is true that a manufacturer’s suggestion of equipment models to be matched is preferred over a “field match”. 

3. Some of the mixing and matching of components can involve existing equipment, such as your ductwork. Unless there is new construction or a total system replacement involved, some existing equipment may be used. Here we get back to quality of installation and the integrity of the installer. If your existing ductwork is used and it has an interior problem (such as mold or contamination) or unsealed leaks, then comparisons of equipment features such as efficiency are much less relevant.  Look out for low bids that cut corners on ductwork, old inadequate wiring or other use of existing equipment.

4. Once must consider features and specifications listed by manufacturers or even independent testing organizations, as they relate to conditions and the envelope of the structure where it will be installed. 

5. There are more brands of equipment than manufacturers of components.  Therefore, some brands share common internal parts.  As an example, look at the common ownership among the brands listed on the lower part of this page . Out of ten major brands, depending on how they are counted, there are about six companies who control them.

As a quick recap, points 2,3, and 4 above reinforce point #1: the integrity of the installation will affect your overall satisfaction and comfort more than the brand of equipment.  A quality HVAC service company will guide you on your equipment options and then install them correctly.  However you go about making your comparisons, start with the quality of the installer first. Then compare features and benefits of the equipment.  You can use our free comparison grid to help.

How To Finance A New Heating and Air Conditioning System

With utility costs going up every month and credit getting harder to find, we want to offer suggestions on how to finance a new heating and A/C system for your home or small commercial building. Making a smart decision to replace your broken or inefficient HVAC system can deliver more comfort and lower your heating and cooling bills every month. Using a cost savings estimator tool (all of which must make some assumptions to cover unknowns), you can easily figure out the payback period for the new equipment. (We wrote about those in our blog two months, in August). Since a heating and AC new system should last much longer than the payback or break-even period, you can get a return of your investment and on your investment.

Heating and AC System Financing Through Your Installer
The first place to look for financing is through the company that installs your furnace and A/C system. For many reasons, you must pick this company very carefully. It is by far the most important decision you will make towards your comfort, costs, and overall satisfaction with a new HVAC system. The local company that installs your system will usually have financing programs from the equipment manufacturer. They might also have arranged third party financing through a local or national lender. Examples of programs from a manufacturer would 12 months same as cash. As in all financial and contractual matters, be sure to read the fine print, front and back, of all documents. Also, pay special attention to the requirements for paying on time and penalties if you were to be late with payments.

Check Out Your Local Credit Union for HVAC financing also
Another, often overlooked, source of financing is through a local credit union. Credit unions have a long history of lending locally. They typically have lower fees and are usually more customer oriented than commercial banks. For a long time, most credit unions were only available through employers. However, in recent years, there are credit unions that are generally available to anyone in the community. This category is called community chartered credit unions. To find one in your area, use a search engine and enter a credit union and your city or a community chartered credit union or visit the NCUA website.

If there is not a community chartered credit union in your area, you might be able to get access to one by joining a organization. As an example, in our hometown of Austin, there is a really good credit union for the University of Texas. Originally opened for faculty and staff, now anyone in the community can be a member by joining the nearby food coop.

Utility Company or Other HVAC Rebate Programs
Regardless of where you finally get financing, remember to ask about rebate programs. These are often from your utility providers, but can also be local, state, or federal programs targeting your area. You might start there first and see if they list lenders who are approved to apply the rebate program.

We look forward to reading your ideas and experiences on this topic.

Flat Rate Pricing in Home A/C and Heating Repair

We frequently get questions from homeowners about repair costs for their central heating and AC equipment. In this post, we will give some basic definitions so you can understand cost related terms when you hear them. Basically, there are two pricing models, flat rate pricing or labor (time) and materials. First we will outline some features that all HVAC repair work has in common.

Trip and Diagnostic Fees
Known in the industry as “T & D” fees, among other names, this is the cost for the phone representative or dispatcher to make your appointment and get the repairman and truck to your house or building and diagnose the problem. No matter which pricing model covers the repair work, you are unlikely to get around the T&D fee. With gas at around $4 a gallon, the trip portion of this cost is mostly going up. Depending on the time of year and part of the country you are in, this cost ranges from about $50 up to $100 or more. When you call in to schedule the work, this is the number you will usually be quoted. The second part of the work, once the problem has been diagnosed, usually follows one of two pricing methods:

Labor (time) and Materials
This type of pricing, also known as “parts and labor”, has become less common. With this pricing structure, you “get the news” of the actual cost you will pay upon completion of the work. Under this model, you would be quoted the hourly rate of the repairman or repair crew plus the cost of the parts, refrigerants, and supplies. The most common concern about this model is that it focuses a lot of energy (not always positive energy, either) on how long the repair takes, especially if the repair truck has to go for parts, etc. In theory, the homeowner bears more of the risk or receives the benefit of lower labor cost, depending on whether the repair drags on for hours or goes really quickly. This is a good model to use if you know for sure that the repairman is technically competent, fast, focused, and honest.

Flat Rate Pricing
In the flat rate pricing model, the repairman has a manual that tells them how long it should take to fix the problem that has been diagnosed, usually to a fraction of an hour. He or she takes this standard number in dollars, adds the price of the parts and tax (if applicable for your area), and the total is the flat rate price you get quoted for the whole repair. Whether the repair actually takes less time or more time than the repairman’s book listed, your total cost was known and agreed to ahead of time. This method rewards fast workers and tends to reduce squabbles with customers over repair time. The main challenge: some companies provide pay incentives for volume and speed. These incentives can distract workers from being as thorough as they might be in the labor and materials model. Not finding all the problems leads to what are know in the HVAC industry as callbacks, which are unfortunate for the homeowner and repairman.

Having said all that, the flat rate model tends to be used more often now. You may not have the option for the labor and materials anyway. Under all scenarios, you should now be able to understand price quotes better and ask the repairman if he/she checked the whole system for problems or assumed that the problem they found first is the only one present.